Landmark symposium on human dimension

An early 2016 conference on factoring in human existence and activity into ecosystem understanding and subsequent assessments will see new ground broken for ICES and its sister organizations.
Published: 2 July 2014

​​​​​​​​Tony D. Smith; the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia​.

Bridging land and sea

Coasts, regional seas, and oceans are contested spaces subject to multiple human uses and vital to local, regional, and global economies. Uses cover sectors such as food production (fishing and aquaculture), mining, energy, transport, and tourism. This activity makes our coasts and oceans complex socio-ecological systems subject to competitive use and cumulative impacts. There are though strong expectations that marine areas can simultaneously meet the human need for food, energy, and conservation whilst supporting social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

In light of these trends and their increasingly prominent role in the context of ecosystems, ICES, PICES and SPICES (South Pacific Integrated Ecosystem Studies Program) along with a group of interested agencies in Europe (IFREMER​), North America (NOAA), and Australia (CSIRO​) are sponsoring a symposium to be held in Paris in February/March 2016 entitled Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments

A social and natural convergence​

There is increasing global recognition of the need to better integrate social and natural sciences, particularly when it comes to dealing with the kinds of 'wicked' problems that arise in natural resource and environmental management, including in the oceans. This builds on but goes well beyond the truism that 'we manage people not ecosystems'.

Strong contributions are already being made from both the social and natural sciences in addressing the challenges our oceans face in terms of food and energy provision and sustaining socio-economic and environmental results. These inputs, however, are not always well linked or integrated, with each of the sciences and disciplines bringing its own perspectives, methods, and language to the table. This means that moving from the current multidisciplinary landscape to a desired interdisciplinary synthesis is by no means straightforward.

Symposium steps in

Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments will explore the interface between the disciplines and look for ways to better stitch them together. Part of this will involve cultivating a view of marine and coastal systems as coupled social-ecological systems, the dynamics of which cannot be fully understood by focusing on the pieces separately. ​

The event will bring together leading thinkers from each of the disciplinary perspectives interested in integrated marine management as part of a process to achieve the assimilation required. 


Breaking new ground

The symposium, although indicative of the work currently being carried out by ICES and its network with regards to Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEAs)​, will arrive as a first for ICES in terms of orchestrating a meeting that revolves solely around the concept.

By providing a platform to inform our understanding of the complex interactions between humanity and the marine world, the ensuing discussion and debate will not only represent the fruition of ICES strategic focus on IEAs but also a keynote chapter in marine biology.  


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​Scuba divers jumping off boat; ©​ ​Amos Nachoum, Marine Photobank​

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Landmark symposium on human dimension

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